Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Amy Guertin

It is virtually impossible to truly co-parent with someone who has no understanding of teamwork. Instead, you need to focus on co-parenting in spite of a narcissist, with an emphasis on insulating yourself and your children from the narcissist's manipulation and rage.

Limit Your Contact

For those that are still in relationships with a narcissist, psychologists recommend decreasing emotional contact with the narcissist. For those no longer in the relationship with the narcissist, the best approach is to minimize contact as much as possible.

Avoid Conflict

Narcissists thrive on conflict. They will attempt to maintain a relationship with you by initiating conflict. If possible, the best thing to do is avoid face-to-face contact. Instead, try to engage in e-mail contact as your primary means of communication, and use phone contact only when necessary. Keep your conversations strictly to the topic of the children. If the conversation turns to other subjects, bring the conversation back to the children. If he or she continues to change the subject, end the conversation as quickly as possible. Arrange neutral, public places for drop-off and pick-up of the children.

Angry dad and smiling narcissistic mom

Maintain Control

Narcissists will feel like they've won if they can make you angry or lose control of yourself by yelling, crying, or pleading. If they win, they will continue to behave in ways that will make you overly emotional. Remaining as unemotional as possible is the best way to interact with a narcissist. Due to the difficulty of this, minimizing contact is one way to be able to maintain control of yourself in front of him or her.

Be Prepared

Educate yourself. Understanding what is likely to happen can help you to prepare yourself to deal with different scenarios that may arise when dealing with your narcissistic ex.

Plan for the Worst

Narcissists do not forgive and forget. They hold grudges for a very long time. They thrive on revenge and trying to psychologically hurt you as much as they can. Prepare yourself for a tough battle. Before seeing your ex face-to-face, think about what you are going to say and try to think about all the possible responses and how you will deal with them. Preparing yourself for interactions in advance may help you to control your frustration in the moment.

Get Everything in Writing

Making promises and not following through is a typical narcissistic behavior. Make sure to get everything in writing. Don't believe verbal promises. He or she may promise to pay child support but the narcissist sees child support as giving you money, not as a means to help support your children. Work with your lawyer to have as much written into a court order as possible. Talk to the lawyer about what you can do after everything is finalized to ensure that promises are kept.

Maintain Firm Boundaries

Maintaining boundaries with someone who has no respect for them is difficult. Remember that you are not maintaining boundaries to change the narcissist's behavior. You are maintaining boundaries to keep yourself and your children as healthy as possible.

Be Assertive

There is a difference between passivity, assertiveness, and aggression. If you are passive, the narcissist will always get his or her way. If you are aggressive, you are attempting to get your way at the expense of the narcissist. If you are assertive, you are standing up for your rights without damaging the self-esteem of another. Understand that the narcissist will not see things this way. He or she will most likely see any attempts at boundary setting as aggression. The narcissist's response to your boundary setting is not your responsibility. Your boundaries will provide the consistency that you and your children need to be healthy.

Don't Admit to Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, and it is natural for people to want to admit to and apologize for their mistakes. However, admission of mistakes will be used as ammunition by the narcissist. Mistakes can be blown out of proportion and used as evidence that you are the crazy, unhealthy, unstable parent. If you make a mistake, move on from it as matter-of-factly as possible.

Do What Is Best for Your Children

A narcissist's needs will always come first. He or she will not put the children first and will attempt to use the children to try to encourage empathy will not work. Since the narcissist will not put the needs of your children first, you need to - regardless of the effects of your behavior on him or her.

Be a Good Role Model

Your kids need to see one healthy parent. If children have at least one healthy role model in their lives, they will not only survive, they will thrive. You need to show them that although they may not be able to control their unhealthy parent's behavior, they are able to control their own. Don't bad mouth the narcissist to your kids. Chances are, he is doing that about you. Show your kids the right way to behave.

Mother hugging daughter

Compensate for the Narcissist's Neglect

Narcissists generally do not have strong emotional connections to their children. Due to this and the fact that they don't put their children's needs before theirs, kids can feel emotionally neglected by a narcissistic parent. Make sure that you compensate for this by reassuring your children that they are good people and that they are loved.

Encourage Your Kids' Interests

Enroll your children in activities that allow them to explore their interests. The other parent may not encourage this, as some of the activities, like games and practices may occur on his time. Encourage him to bring the children to their planned events but be prepared to do so yourself if he is not cooperative.

Explore Parallel Parenting

Co-parenting, or two parents working together to raise their kids, is not possible in high-conflict situations. A better option is parallel parenting. Parallel parenting allows both parents to make decisions regarding the children when the children are under their care.

Goals of Parallel Parenting

There are two main goals of parallel parenting. The first is to avoid conflict in front of the children. Although one result may be to decrease conflict overall, the main goal is to decrease the amount of conflict that the children see. The second goal is to minimize parental contact with each other. This goal is not to minimize either parent's contact with the children. The goal is to allow both parents to see the children while minimizing contact between the parents.

Creating a Parallel Parenting Plan

Parallel parenting plans must be very specific and are usually set up in the court custody agreement. The plan is designed to cut out as much necessary communication as possible. Make sure that your custody agreement specifically details at least the following:

  • Specific days for visitation as well as start and end times
  • Where pick-up and drop-off will take place
  • Provisions about cancellation and make-up times, if any
  • Responsibility for transportation
  • Process for dispute resolution if there is a disagreement between parents over the visitation schedule

You may also wish to consider adding things such as which parent has responsibility for which activities -- for example, one parent may take responsibility for sports while the other parent takes responsibility for another activity. As this is a legal document, talk to your lawyer about additional stipulations you might want.

Never Give Up

Chances are, the narcissistic parent won't change very much. Be realistic about this. However, for the sake of your children, try to keep things as amicable as possible. This may not work, no matter what you do. Just remember that although you cannot control another person's behavior, you can control your own. The ultimate goal is your children being able to have relationships with both of their parents that are as conflict-free as possible. Make that your goal every time you interact with your kids' other parent.

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist